Leo Fernandes' pair of goals helped power the Tampa Bay Rowdies to their first win in Pittsburgh all-time, and their second five-goal performance on the road this season on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
The highest-scoring day of the season so far arrived this past Saturday, with 41 goals across 11 games as three different teams recorded at least five goals in a contest for the first time since August, 2019. Among all of that were some major results as top spot in the Western Conference changed hands, and the top three in the East began to create separation from a pack that includes one team that seems capable of potentially bridging the gap.
Here are 10 things we took away from the action.
Prior to Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Rowdies had yet to claim victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Highmark Stadium since joining the USL Championship in 2017. In fact, the Hounds had proven one of the side’s most difficult opponents at their home on the banks of the Monongahela River, with the Rowdies having scored only twice in five prior visits.
That made the 5-2 victory for the two-time defending Eastern Conference title holders that much more shocking, as Leo Fernandes notched a pair of goals, Sebastian Dalgaard a pair of assists, and the visitors became only the second team to record five goals against the Hounds on their home turf in the Championship era.
“You’ve got to come out and really perform in a difficult environment like this, and I think we really did that,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “For the first time this season, I think we can really say that we took our opportunities. We’ve created so much, and we haven’t quite had the benefit of those chances and tonight we did.”
The result again showed the explosiveness of the Rowdies’ attack. The win was the second five-goal performance away from home this season after their equally devastating 5-1 victory against Phoenix Rising FC on May 15. Now on a seven-game undefeated run, Tampa Bay is looking like the force we expected at the start of the season.
Tampa Bay’s victory wasn’t matched in terms of goalscoring prolificacy by Memphis 901 FC in the other top-five clash in the Eastern Conference on Saturday night, but the performance delivered by the hosts in a 2-0 win at AutoZone Park against fourth-placed Detroit City FC was arguably as impressive. Memphis’ contained Detroit’s attack for much of the contest, and with Graham Smith notching a goal for a second consecutive game off a set piece delivery by Aaron Molloy and Phillip Goodrum notching his ninth goal of the season late to cap a fine display, 901 FC retained top spot in the standings after a second win in 72 hours.
“We pressed high in the first half. The second half, as they went more aggressive, we picked our moments,” said Memphis Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “One thing we wanted to do better than we did against Tulsa was when we keep it in the final third and had a dozen chances. We played great and I'm proud of these boys, they put it on the line.”
The victories by 901 FC and the Rowdies set up a massive game to kick off July as Memphis visits Al Lang Stadium this Saturday for the second meeting between the teams this season. After Pirmann’s squad earned a 3-1 win on home turf on April 27, the Rowdies will be looking to turn the tables, giving us a matchup that could be among the best this season has to offer.
This past weekend gave us another of the games that can loom large in the final reckoning as Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC played host to San Antonio FC in what we anticipated was a moment of truth for the Switchbacks on home turf at Weidner Field. There was a lot to like from what the hosts showed, standing up to SAFC’s physicality and creating more attacking chances overall.
As it had in three of the four meetings between the teams last season, however, San Antonio came away with victory. An own goal early in the second half gave the visitors the moment they needed to cap an outstanding defensive display that included 34 clearances to send them to the top of the Western Conference standings.
“Incredibly proud of the team,” said SAFC Head Coach Alen Marcina. “To come here and keep a clean sheet, against one of the best attacking groups in the league, just so proud of the collective … What’s been consistent all year is their mentality. There’s a reason why we tagged them the mentality monsters. They are ultra-competitive, cohesive, and resilient for 90-plus minutes. For that I’m incredibly proud of the team.”
Colorado Springs could quickly regain first place in the West, but the physical nature of the clash with San Antonio could result in a potential hangover for Tuesday night’s game against Hartford Athletic at Trinity Health Stadium. Midfielder Cam Lindley was a notable substitution seven minutes into the second half, as the hosts were unable to find a response.
As challenging as that might be for the title contenders, Switchbacks goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell said the game and the result could be an important one for the side in the big picture after a game that featured the sort of intensity you might expect in the USL Championship Playoffs at the end of the season.
“[It was] obviously a big test for us, and it's painful, but like anything else you can't dwell on it in the moment of the game, or dwell on it in your preparation for the next one,” said Caldwell, who could face his former club in Hartford on Tuesday night. “You pick yourself up and you get back to work, and that's us, we're a talented group.
“Again, that one stings because we were dominating that game and then a mistake changes the whole dynamic, so I have to live and learn with that and as a group we have to live and learn because when it comes to playoff time and it’s good games and good teams, it’s going to come down to a goal.”
At this point with Las Vegas Lights FC, you might know that you need to contain Danny Trejo and Cal Jennings when they’re on the field together, but accomplishing that feat is going to be quite the task. The forward each recorded a goal apiece for the third consecutive game, sending Lights FC to its first three-game league winning streak in club history, on Friday night in a 3-2 victory against Phoenix Rising FC that maintained Trejo and Jennings’ position among the best attacking duos in the Championship this season.
Trejo (9 goals) and Jennings (6 goals) have now combined for 15 of Lights FC’s 23 tallies this campaign, or 65 percent. Only two sets of teammates have currently combined for more goals this season, with Orange County SC’s Milan Iloski (9 goals) and Erick “Cubo” Torres (8 goals) on 17, and San Diego Loyal SC’s Kyle Vassell (10 goals) and Thomas Amang (6 goals) on 16. As well-structured and prepared as the rest of the lineup currently looks under Head Coach Enrique Duran’s direction, looks like a serious playoff contender for the first time.
First, the caveat: Birmingham Legion FC still sits with the second-fewest goals in the USL Championship this season with only 14 tallies in 15 games. Still, coming away from their 2-0 victory on the road against New Mexico United on Saturday night at Isotopes Park, it’s hard not to be impressed with the identity the side has built, and where the Three Sparks could be headed in the near future.
With a defense that is tied for the fewest goals conceded (12) in the league this season – and that stifled former Legion FC forward Neco Brett, not allowing the current United forward an official shot over 90 minutes – Birmingham now sits tied for the longest active winning streak in the league at four games alongside Sacramento Republic FC. With former United States international Juan Agudelo picking up a goal and assist to provide the attacking quality alongside Enzo Martinez, it might not be as dazzling as some, but it’s certainly looking like it might be an effective way to challenge the top sides in the East.
“I think we’ve sort of found our identity,” said Agudelo on Saturday. “Who we are, understanding one another, keeping things tight, and sort of believing that if we keep the game zero to zero for as long as we can, we can always come out with three points.”
Maalique Foster’s time at Sacramento Republic FC hasn’t had the greatest of fortune. Last season, the Jamaican went without a goal in 15 appearances and 474 minutes of action, and due to injury, this year hadn’t started off much better. A late goal against the New York Red Bulls II and less than 100 minutes of action was all Foster had to show for his efforts to get on the field and produce for Sacramento, an undoubtedly frustrating situation all around.
That’s why when Foster delivered two goals in three minutes to lift Sacramento to a 2-1 victory against Monterey Bay F.C. on Saturday night at Cardinale Stadium, both he and the team were delighted for Foster’s first big moment in the spotlight.
“I think he showed everyone what he’s capable of bringing into this group,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mark Briggs. “[I’m] over the moon for him tonight to come on and score two goals. All the subs were fantastic, but special mention to Maalique, because he's been through hell, and he's come out the other side and won us a game tonight.”
Two of Saturday night’s contests ended up with lopsided 5-0 results in favor of the hosts. You might have expected that in El Paso Locomotive FC’s victory against the New York Red Bulls II, but probably less so in San Diego Loyal SC’s clash with an Indy Eleven side currently in the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
The display from the hosts at Torero Stadium – which saw Kyle Vassell score twice to move to 10 goals this season and SD Loyal register 23 shots overall, its highest total in a league game this season – was an indicator of what Head Coach Landon Donovan’s side can be when at its devastating best.
“I think outside the first 10 minutes, that was the best 80 minutes we’ve played as a team since I’ve been here in three years,” said Donovan. “I’m really proud of not just the first-half performance and what that was, but then in the second half to keep going and keep going and keep going. That’s what top teams do, and it’s hard to do. It’s really hard.”
Surrendering the opening goal after just two minutes is never the start a side wants to make. For an Orange County SC side mired in its longest losing streak in eight years, though, it could have been a major blow. Instead, the defending USL Championship title holders got the moments they needed – and another three goals from scoring duo Milan Iloski and Erick “Cubo” Torres – to take a 3-1 victory against Loudoun United FC and potentially salvage their season.
As positive as Iloski and Torres’ contributions were, the biggest moment of the game might have been delivered by goalkeeper Colin Shutler. Introduced for his Championship debut by OCSC Head Coach Richard Chaplow after previously competing in USL League One for North Texas SC, the 23-year-old’s penalty kick save to deny Loudoun the lead early in the second half was pivotal as he relieved last year’s postseason hero Patrick Rakovsky. Six minutes later, Torres struck, and Orange County didn’t look back.
“He kept us in the game,” said OCSC assistant coach Paul Hardyman of Shutler. “And then from that I think we gained a little bit of confidence. We went forward and we got the second and from that we sort of started to build and then right at the end Milan’s goal was the icing on the cake for us to top it off.
“You know, we've had a lot of things go against this over the last four or five weeks like last minute goals and decisions that have gone against us and individual mistakes, but today we've shown some real good character.”
Louisville City FC Head Coach Danny Cruz described his side’s 2-0 victory against Hartford Athletic on Saturday afternoon as “an absolute grind,” with high temperatures impacting the conditions as the visitors looked to post its first consecutive wins in over a month.
What stood out most from the performance, though, was the manner in which LouCity’s defense kept a Hartford attack that had delivered a breakout performance the week before in check. There were chances for the hosts – there almost always will be – but while the Athletic’s Prince Saydee hit the upright and both Joel Johnson and Juan Carlos Obregon Jr. forced good saves out of LouCity’s Danny Faundez, the areas those shots came from on the outer thirds of the penalty area made them comfortable to handle.
LouCity, meanwhile, forced higher-quality chances throughout, and eventually got rewarded when Sean Totsch notched his fourth goal of the season with a close-range header after good work by Wilson Harris and Amadou Dia to clean up and retain possession after a corner kick. That difference in chance creation was the difference between the two teams, and the difference in the game, highlighting the respective positions both teams hold in the standings at present.